August 26, 2020

Andreas Betsche

Is No Straight Roads the new King of Rock?

August 26, 2020 | Andreas Betsche

In a world where electronic sounds dominate the music business, our task is to bring rock back to its former glory. Action adventure No Straight Roads by Malaysian studio Metronomik received a lot of praise and expectations for one of the most important games from Southeast Asia are huge. In this review, we will clarify whether the game lives up to these expectations and can claim the rock ‘n roll throne once an for all.

Mayday and Zuke, the two protagonists of the game, form the rock band Bunkbed Junction. They enchant the masses in a talent competition, but fail because of the NSR jury which is blinded by EDM. Ultimately, the unlikely duo swears to free the world of NSR and bring rock back onto the stage. To do this, they have to defeat the NSR top stars in epic concert battles. The motley No Straight Roads tells its story with a lot of humor and in extensive cutscenes that like to switch style between 3D and comic aesthetics. Although the story does not win an award for innovation, it is charmingly written and excellently voiced. The voice actors do a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life – the fact that some even speak with a Malaysian accent gives the game a whole unique vibe in the often monotonous voice over landscape.

No Straight Roads is not a rhythm or music game in the classic sense, but a 3D action adventure that transfers the musical theme into this genre. We control the characters from a third person perspective, switching between Zuke and Mayday or in co-op with another player. On the Nintendo Switch, a third player can even jump into the game as a support character. Zuke and Mayday can jump, attack with their instruments and perform special skills. So far, so unoriginal. The trick is in the beat of the music! All actions in the game are based on it: opponents attack in time, platforms move and bosses perform certain actions. The result is a completely different gameplay feeling, because we can’t just “rush through” but keep pausing and always must listen to the music.

The game progresses following a strict scheme: Each NSR star represents a final boss who has to be defeated. To do this, we first fight our way through longer sections with smaller opponents and jumping passages, and then go into the final battle, which is often divided into several phases. Between the fights we can explore the (quite small and somehow “tubular”) Vinyl City, collect extras, chat with the crazy residents and hang out in our HQ. This  is where we can also improve our skills, equip special skills and put power stickers on our instruments.

A highlight of the game is the visual design, which, with its bright colors and comic-like presentation, is reminiscent of genre classics from the PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast era. Vinyl City and the boss stages are overflowing with design extravagance and creativity, are full of references at the music business and if you look very carefully you will discover many small details that reveal the Malaysian origins of the developers: Wayang figures, shophouses or  a typical food parlor give the game a special touch. A fact that is also reflected in the two rap duels in the game, which are based on the traditional percussion culture Dikir Barat – such a unique idea!

So, is No Straight Roads the new king in rock heaven? Unfortunately not quite. Because as brightly as the game shines on the audio-visual level, as much does it fail in the implementation of the gameplay. Although the idea of ​​making a rhythm-based action adventure is creative in essence, there are unfortunately some elementary weaknesses. For example, the fixed camera perspective drove us crazy because jump passages in particular were so difficult to assess and were often punished with undeserved missed jumps or hits. At least on the PS4, the controller inputs always seemed slightly delayed and unresponsive from time to time. In combination with a gameplay that relies on precise actions, this is a no go. In addition, not all of the boss fights were perfectly implemented: Sometimes we simply didn’t know what to do or were so overwhelmed by the visual stimuli that we would have liked to throw our controller to the wall. Yes, No Straight Roads is demanding and relies on repeatedly playing  the encounters – but we would have liked more fine-tuning to give the fights a clearer readability. The developers seemed to be aware of the problems and added the option to continue playing after a gameover at the expense of a poorer final rating. After all!

Smaller visual glitches and frame rate drops cannot tarnish the otherwise generally coherent technical implementation. On the other hand, we weren’t so convinced by the many features that hardly affect the overall gameplay experience: RPG skill system, power-ups and exploration feel like nice gimmicks, but never play a decisive role. However, we liked the opportunity for Mayday to give interviews every now and then, where individual answers can be selected. Doesn’t change much of the game either, but it’s a nice worldbuilding effect!

So it didn’t all turn out great, but for the most part we had a lot of fun with No Straight Roads. That was mainly because you can see the enthusiasm and passion the developers have put into the game. Together with their team, the creative minds Wan Hazmer and Daim Dziauddin have created a unique piece of work that could mark the beginning of a new era of Malaysian game development. The ideas and the creative potential are there, now the technical implementation and the gameplay must follow.

Does No Straight Roads climb the rock Olympus anyway? As is so often the case with music, the answer to this question is a matter of taste. For us, it is like this: The game would like to be Iron Maiden or Queen, luckily it didn’t become Nickelback or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but settles somewhere in between: basically the Foo Fighters among video games.

No Straight Roads is available for PC on Epic Games Store (affiliate link), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. This review is based on a free review copy provided by the publisher.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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